Manchester United vs. Arsenal: Who Makes a Combined XI?

Credits: Flickr Commons
Credits: Flickr Commons /

Which current Manchester United and Arsenal players would make it into a combined XI?

Throughout the Premier League era, Manchester United and Arsenal have been the two strongest teams. It’s therefore logical that some of the best players to have graced England’s top division plied their trade at the two clubs.

Selecting a combined XI from the fit and available players right now, however, is a little more difficult than it might have been in years gone by.

United, in particular, have a much weaker squad compared to a decade ago. Arsenal might have Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, but they too have had stronger squads in the past.

But let’s take a look at the two teams and come up with a combined XI in a 4-3-3 formation.

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Goalkeeper: David De Gea

Petr Cech is one of the Premier League’s best-ever ‘keepers – and will rightly be remembered that way when he retires – but De Gea, at least on form, has arguably been the best goalkeeper in the world during the last 18 months. The Spaniard is an excellent shot-stopper, a superb kicker and is far more commanding in his penalty area than at any other point during his United career. It’s a close battle between the two goalkeepers, but De Gea edges it on overall ability.

Right-back: Hector Bellerin

The young Spaniard has been one of the Premier League’s success stories in the last two seasons and will likely go on to enjoy a fine career. With electric pace, tenacity and an ability to maraud up and down the right flank all game, Bellerin could fairly be described as the best right-back in the league. Matteo Darmian started brightly in a United shirt but has faded a little, and it’s too early to tell whether Guillermo Varela will become a mainstay in the squad. For now, Bellerin is a clear winner to hold down a slot at right-back.

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Central defence: Chris Smalling 

The 26-year-old has blossomed into a brilliant centre-back and, despite a slight dip in form during the last few months, remains a shoo-in for this combined XI. Smalling has always been an athletic defender and is now starting to command games much better than he did at the start of his United career. Although there’s a chance he may miss this weekend’s game vs. Arsenal through injury, if fit, Smalling would easily make a combined team.

Central defence: Laurent Koscielny 

The Frenchman is a defender who divides opinion: Arsenal fans believe him to be the best centre-back in the Premier League, while non-Arsenal fans are cautious to hand him that label on account of his error-strewn performances. Regardless, Koscielny is a good player. He is fast, strong and, given the dearth of quality in central defence on both teams, comfortably makes a combined XI.

Left-back: Nacho Monreal

If fit, Luke Shaw would without doubt be handed a spot at left-back. In his absence, United have tested Darmian, Ashley Young, Marcos Rojo and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, all of whom have done well to varying degrees. But Monreal has quietly become a fine left-back in his own right. The Spaniard is reliably solid and, as his goal vs. United in the FA Cup last season illustrated, has developed an attacking side to his game.

Defensive midfield: Morgan Schneiderlin

In a battle between Schneiderlin and Francis Coquelin, it comes down to a matter of opinion. Both are combative, tenacious players. What separates them – and it’s marginal – is that Schneiderlin is slightly better technically and offers more in attack. Since moving from Southampton, his skills haven’t been utilised properly and Louis van Gaal has strangely left him out of some of United’s biggest games. Coquelin, meanwhile, provides much-needed balance in an Arsenal team populated by technical, flashy players. Both are brilliant – but Schneiderlin just edges it on this occasion.

Central midfield: Mesut Ozil 

The German came in for plenty of criticism during his early Arsenal career, but performances this season have quelled all of that. Quite simply, he has been outstanding: creating chances for fun, racking up assist after assist and generally making Arsenal tick. Ozil is one of the best passers in the Premier League, especially over a short distance, and will almost certainly make the Team of the Year at the end of the season.

Central midfield: Juan Mata 

The Spaniard is another player who has divided opinion since his move from Chelsea. On the one hand, his detractors argue that he no longer controls games the way he did. Others point to his excellent goal contribution in an average United team as evidence of his importance. Either way, Mata remains a superb footballer. He started the season on fire, endured a quiet winter, but has shown glimpses of a return to form in recent weeks. He is flawless technically and, despite lacking any form of athleticism, manages to score more goals than most midfielders in the Premier League. Alongside Ozil and anchored by Schneiderlin, Mata would thrive in a combined XI.

Left wing: Alexis Sanchez

The Chilean hasn’t been as devastatingly good as he was last season, but he remains one of the best attacking players in the Premier League. Fast, agile and with a powerful shot, Sanchez can terrorise any right-back – just ask Darmian. In a combined XI of the two teams, he has to make it.

Right wing: Anthony Martial 

The young Frenchman has played his best football this season on the left wing or as a striker, but it’s a mark of his ability that he can also fit in on the right wing. In his debut season at United, Martial has been superb. What makes him so special is that he has the perfect blend of physical attributes and technical ability. He’s been one of United’s best performers in 2015/16 and fully deserves a spot in a combined XI.

Striker: Olivier Giroud

Were he fit, Wayne Rooney would have a strong case to make a combined XI ahead of the Frenchman. United’s captain, though, is injured, and Giroud therefore makes the team almost by default. However, that’s not to say he hasn’t earned a spot on merit. Giroud is viewed disparagingly by many football fans, but he has an impressive goal record and links the play better than most strikers.

And so there we have it – five United players and six Arsenal players make the combined XI. Given the number of injuries on either side, the team would look entirely different if every player was fit and available. 

Next: Manchester United to Be Without Key Players vs. Arsenal

Whether it’s United or Arsenal who pick up the win this weekend, it’s more than likely that the match-winner will come from one of the 11 players listed above.